It’s that time of the year again when all the usual suspects, or as I like to call them, the virus crime bosses, get together to discuss which territories they’re going to target next. I can see them all sitting around the table: On the left are the Rhinoviruses with their 99 serotypes, to the right are the coronaviruses, adenoviruses, and the flu virus clan. At the end of the table, looking large and in charge, is the particularly evil human respiratory syncytial virus family.
The “common cold” is by far the most diagnosed non-influenza viral infection, resulting in $17 billion dollars of medical care and 200 million days of missed work on an annual basis. It’s estimated that Americans spend $2.9 billion on over-the-counter cold remedies and $1.1 billion on unnecessary antibiotics. In an ideal world, we would all take the necessary steps to increase our resistance to the cold virus by supporting our immune systems during the fall and winter months. We would eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, control stress, avoid toxins, and get enough sleep. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t matter how healthy you are, the upper respiratory viruses are surprisingly smart and insidious.
Here are a few of our most effective immune-supportive products for the winter cold and flu season:
- When a cold virus attacks my “go-to” botanical is Pelargonium sidoides, also known as Umcka. Pelargonium is a species of African geranium that has been used for centuries in Zulu medicine as a treatment for respiratory illness (consumption). To date, over 20 studies including 9000+ participants have evaluated Pelargonium’s therapeutic effect on the common cold, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and sinusitis. A Cochrane Review Meta-analysis concluded “P. sidoides may offer symptom relief in acute bronchitis in children and adults and in rhinosinusitis and the common cold in adults.” The Journal of Family Practice gave it a B (strength of recommendation) rating based on a multicenter, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial reported in the journal Explore. In this trial, the treatment group experienced significant decreases in the severity and duration of the common cold. After 10 days, 78.8% of EPs group were “clinically cured” compared to 31.4% in placebo group (p < 0.0001). The mean duration of inability to work was significantly lower in EPs group (6.9 days) vs. the placebo group (8.2 days; p = 0.0003). Pelargonium has an exceptional safety record in adults and children with no significant adverse effects. It is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. Pelargonium does not interact with antibiotics. Research has shown that the efficacy of Pelargonium is less when started later in the course of illness, thus dosing at the onset of symptoms is recommended.
- Just as effective as Umcka, black elderberry is also a “go-to” product for enhancing the immune system’s response to viral infections. In Europe and Israel, Elderberry has been traditionally used for treating influenza and colds. Both in vitro and in vivo studies have shown elderberry to inhibit haemagglutination, viral proliferation, and adhesion of viruses to the host cell receptors. In addition, it’s been reported that elderberry stimulates the immune system by increasing the production of monocytic cytokines. In short, elderberry can reduce the spread of cold/flu viruses throughout the body while simultaneously stimulating specialized immune cells that fight viral infections.
- Anti-V, a novel combination of Echinamide (clinically studied Echinacea), astragalus, lomatium, reishi mushroom, and licorice can offer broad-spectrum immune system support. Originally developed by herbal extraction scientist Jan V. Slama, Ph.D., this formula can have potent anti-viral activity.
- Bee propolis, which is derived from tree and plant resins that have been enzymatically activated by bees, can have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties.
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics
Lizogub VG, Riley DS, Heger M. Efficacy of a Pelargonium Sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Explore (NY) 2007; 3:573-584
Kinoshita E, Hayashi K, Katayama H. Anti-Influenza Virus Effects of Elderberry Juice and Its Fractions. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem. 76 (9) 1633-1638, 2012
Alstat, Edward K. “The Case for a Natural Approach to Viral Infections.” Medical Nutrition, Winter 1989.